Gustav Degerman – Founder and CEO of Portfoliobox

I have pursued that which I love and that is the reason why I have come this far.

Gustav Degerman is the founder and CEO of Portfoliobox, a leading CMS and website development tool for photographers and other creative people. With close to 10 years of experience in the IT industry, Degerman has become a leading voice in the IT space, and specifically, as it applies to website design. Portfoliobox has grown to become one of the best online website builders in the marketplace. Prior to founding Portfoliobox, Degerman ran a private IT consulting firm focused on web development. Degerman received a Master of Science, Integrated Product Development from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Where did the idea for Portfoliobox come from?

The origination of Portfoliobox stemmed from a concept that my partner Hamid Abouei and I had when I was studying at The Royal Institute of Technology. Since both of us were entrepreneurs with several previous ventures, we decided to build something together. The opportunity came in June 2010 when Victoria, the princess of Sweden was married. Hamid and I decided that this was the perfect time to start a new website builder for wedding websites. However, almost immediately we realized that the market for wedding websites was quite small and we shifted the focus to photographers, designers and other creatives instead.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Mornings are the time of the day when I am the most productive and I normally start the day with product development or other tasks that require my full focus. At 10 am, we conduct the daily developer meeting where all developers present what they are working on. A representative from the support team also attends the meetings and this is their chance to ask questions or report bugs to the developers. I want all the developers to work independent, like engineers, so all questions and unclarity are discussed at this meeting. For the rest of the day, the developers can work without interruption from project managers or others.

During the day I am handling all kinds of tasks. It can be anything from marketing activities to paying bills. I like to organize my weekly tasks in a large notebook, where I make a mind map containing the activities of the week. This gives me a good overview and I can easily browse earlier pages to see the history.

Another important activity is my daily talks with Hamid. We run this company together and we are constantly discussing strategies, problems and improvements. I think that these informal chats make the company more agile since we can act immediately on new opportunities or obstacles.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have always loved to develop ideas. When I look back on ideas that I worked with long ago I used to smile at the fact that I was so naive. However, I believe that naivety is a key factor. When you are young you think that you can succeed in everything. If someone tells you the truth, you might never try. Since life is not about receiving all the answers ahead of time, if you don’t have trial and error, you will not learn and never experience success.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I think that we live in a very exciting time. New technologies that will change the way we live are on the brink of being released. I am particularly excited by artificial intelligence and augmented reality. It will be really fun to see how we can incorporate these technologies in Portfoliobox.

Personally, I think that the future is balancing on the edge of a knife. On the one hand we have these new technologies with extreme potential. On the other hand, we have the epic threat of global warming and the accompanying refugee crisis. These events may not only cause massive human suffering but they will also put our societies and democracy at risk.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Your interest never lies. You will never be good at something that you don’t love. I have pursued that which I love and that is the reason why I have come this far.

I also want to strike a bow for personal well being. Many people seem to have the notion that entrepreneurs need to work extremely hard. I don’t agree with that. In order to succeed in the long run you need to enjoy your venture and nothing is fun if you work yourself to death. Even if I am sometimes eager to work in the evenings and at weekends, I tell myself that I need to shut it down. That way I am more excited the next day.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was working at a university and got the task of typing in big amount of data into a database. The boss could not see any problem with this task. Personally I think these types of tasks, which takes lots of time and are very boring, are better to automate.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have employed more people to the support team earlier. Some years ago when we developed a complete new version of Portfoliobox. I got totally wrapped up in the product development. Support was overlooked and the team was understaffed. The people working there were stressed out and customers were dissatisfied.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Continue to learn. I am always trying to learn and improve. I write down experiences, evaluate projects and save the knowledge. I recommend others to reflect and learn from their experiences and write down these reflections. This is an attitude that will not only make you a better professional, but it will also ease your mind. You have to understand that failure is not just a part of the game but also an opportunity for you to get invaluable lessons.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I think that the one most important strategy for Portfoliobox has been our laser focus on the product. Creating a great product and making sure that it’s better than our competitors, have been our top priority. Until quite recently we hardly spent any money on marketing, and that fact alone shows that the product itself has been the key of our growth.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Some years prior to Portfoliobox, I ran a venture where we tried to make another web service for creative people. The development of the website was very slow and when we finally were ready for the release, the team was exhausted and unmotivated. I then learned the importance of limiting the first release and exclude functionality. You always want it all at once, but it’s much better for motivation if something is live and you are successful at sales.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There are several online stores where you can buy clothing from different brands. I wish that there was a site which collected high quality, ethically produced clothing only. I was influenced by the documentary ”True costs” and told myself not to buy clothing produced by people that work for peanuts in shabby buildings. However, I soon realized that is a commitment which is hard to live by. It’s very hard to find ethically produced clothing.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

January is dark and cold in Stockholm, so I spent it on a vacation. Recharging your batteries in the sun is worth a lot.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

• Evernote is a fantastic tool
• Acast is my favorite pod app
• I use for certain shortcuts
• But above all I recommend Mindomo. We use it for everything from project planning, idea generation to development/ticket management.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I can’t choose one. I have to give you three recommendations since I feel so strongly that these books are important to me.

The Best Tennis of Your Life: 50 Mental Strategies For Fearless Performance by Jeff Greenwald – Even if you don’t play tennis this is a fantastic book. It will give you simple yet powerful advice on how to handle tough situations in your work and other parts of your life.
The Buddha Walks into a Bar by Lodro Rinzler – A great book if you want to be less stressed out, without necessary becoming a Buddhist.
Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas – I think that it is important for entrepreneurs and investors to understand what is going on in the world of business.

Key Learnings

  • I have pursued that which I love and that is the reason why I have come this far.
  • I am always trying to learn and improve. I write down experiences, evaluate projects and save the knowledge.
  • Until quite recently we hardly spent any money on marketing, and that fact alone shows that the product itself has been the key of our growth.


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